Thursday, October 6, 2011

Michael Hardt on Revolution

Last night I watched the documentary 'Examined Life'. It is eight philosophers giving brief interviews about the role of philosophy in the contemporary world, its role in their lives, and what type of philosophical work they have pursued. Philosophers I know, like Cornell West, Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, and Kwame Anthony Appiah. And others that I don't know, like Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, Avital Ronell, and Michael Hardt.

I thought the interview with Hardt was really fascinating. He was rowing on a lake, discussing the idea of revolution in America. He explained how in the late 70's or early 80's he and some of his intellectual friends went to El Salvador to help the revolutionaries there. They told them it was great they were trying to help, but that they could help the most by going back to America and making revolution there. He said to them that he didn't know how to make revolution in America. That it wasn't clear to him what revolution in America would really mean. They said 'Well don't you have mountains in America? You move to the mountains, you start an armed cell, and you make revolution'. This advice, of course, was so foreign to his experience. The idea of starting an armed cell in America just didn't make sense. He therefore set about conceptually reworking the idea of revolution to fit America. A fascinating task.

He ended up saying something about human nature. And how the normal debate about whether human nature is good or bad is a stupid debate. Human nature, he asserted, is not this static thing that is either good or evil. It is constituted he says. Meaning that human nature is 'the history of habits and practices'. Revolution, he says, 'is not just about a transformation for democracy, it requires a transformation of human nature so that people are capable of democracy.' Revolution is about changing people, about changing minds and bodies.

I like what I hear. I haven't read Hardt, but I've learned that he coauthored a lot of stuff with Anthony Negri, who I know through Zizek. I haven't been able to delve into that work yet. But I'll have to get Empire or Commonwealth or something. Rethinking revolution seems important.

One reason it excites me is because it clicks with a lot of my other reading. In particular, it reminds me of some writing I did on Gandhi, Foucault, and Collingwood. In that writing I was trying to grapple with Gandhian Satyagraha: a word that translates to 'truth force', or something like that. Gandhi provides a powerful and philosophically nuanced method non-violence resistance. The only problem, I thought, was that we often don't realize what our political problems are. Our problems are so normalized that they are below our radar, we aren't even aware of them as problems. This is why Foucault's work is valuable. He wants to make us realize that there are certain problems we haven't been aware of. I said this: ' Revolution and social change has to have both a mental and a physical component. Foucault's work would cover the mental component, revealing to people that there are certain problems that they were previously unaware of. Gandhi, then, would have the technique for the actual physical action that Foucault's work would inspire.'

Then it makes me thing of Roger Smith, Collingwood, and Norman Doidge. Some stuff about history and revolution. Some stuff about human self-creation. Some stuff about institutions and how they create human nature. Institutions and habit. Civilization as a mental process (Collingwood). Civilization as a neurological process (Doidge). Mediums and minds (me). I don't know. Political change, history, minds, brains. The task of history as the that of humans creating themselves (Collingwood, Foucault, Smith, Doidge). All that shit. It is a tough mess to sort. Ha!

I don't have the patience, or even the ability to write intelligently on this right now.

These are the notes I took. A mess. A big mess.

One thing I did think to myself was that I'm not crazy. I don't think I'm crazy with the way I'm speaking about institutions as mediums, and minds as affected by mediums, and the creation of mediums as the creation of minds. It makes sense. It clicks with these other thinkers. The task of civilization is to devise a method to create, on mass, a certain type of mind, a certain set of habits. Change the mediums. Change the minds.

- Gandhi, Foucault, Collingwood, Smith and revolution as the transformation of people, the reconstitution of human nature. Human self creation is radical. But how does it happen? It happens through institutional transformation. Change the medium, change the mind, change the brain, change human nature.

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